Making a Connection: FoodFinder app connects people in need of local food resources

FoodFinder app creator Jack Griffin.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S., more Americans experienced food insecurity for the first time and were unsure of where to receive emergency food assistance. Thankfully, the FoodFinder app and website was ready to connect thousands of people in need to local food resources.

“We’ve talked with people – folks who had always prided themselves for decades on being able to pay the bills, have a job, make ends meet and because of the pandemic – all of a sudden they need help from food pantries and they didn’t know where their next meal would come from,” said Jack Griffin, FoodFinder’s Founder and CEO.

Like other hunger relief nonprofits, FoodFinder was called to respond to a huge spike in demand due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

“We served an average of 3,000 people per day in March and April, four-times our normal demand,” Griffin said. ”Our daily impact has stabilized to 1,500 people served per day, but that’s still twice our pre-pandemic average.”

From March through September, the digital resource connected about 22,600 metro Atlanta residents to food assistance.

Griffin, now 22, started FoodFinder while he was still in high school at Peachtree Ridge in Gwinnett County. He was looking for a volunteer opportunity at a nearby food pantry but had difficulty locating one.

“That online search process was much more difficult than I thought it would be and should be; it was really piecemeal and fragmented.  If a food pantry is run out of church, if it’s entirely volunteer run – they may not even have an online presence,” Griffin discovered. ”We could do our part to connect the people looking for help with the places that already offer it, ideally so everyone is better off as a result.”

By May of 2014, Griffin launched the FoodFinder website with a couple dozen food pantries in and around Gwinnett County.

“We got the mobile app up and running in 2016 thanks to our first grant from the Atlanta – based Arby’s Foundation” Griffin said. The app and website are virtually identical – making it easy to use for individuals and families in need, students seeking food outside of school hours and teachers and counselors to make referrals.  Each pin on the map shows you the resource’s street address, hours of operation and contact info.

With the platforms in place, FoodFinder expanded their database through research, collaboration with major food banks and input from the field.

Over the next several years, FoodFinder increased its reach to all 50 states; a tall task, especially while Griffin was a full-time college student at the University of Michigan.

“In the early days, we were told it would be impossible to have a statewide database for even every food pantry in Georgia. Fast forward to FoodFinder today and we’re now a national resource. We have the info of 45,000 different programs across all 50 states and have helped families in more than 10,000 different cities and towns across the U.S.,” Griffin said.

Thanks, in part, to a grant from Walmart Foundation in 2019, the nonprofit’s staff includes Griffin, a Chief Operations Officer and a team of four part-timers to work on data sourcing and verification.

FoodFinder is close realizing its goal of 100 percent nationwide coverage and being first ever database and directory of every food pantry in America.

“We would love to welcome more people into our mission – either to help spread the word or support us directly.  For every $10 that someone donates we can connect 200 people across the country to food assistance; a little goes a tremendously long way,” Griffin said.

Find out more at foodfinder.us, or follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at FoodFinderUS.

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